Derek Jeter's site where athletes write about themselves is the most disruptive publisher on the internet

Players' TribuneGettyWriters and editors for the Players’ Tribune. (Some of these guys are pretty athletic, too.)

While most Americans were grilling and generally chilling to celebrate Independence Day, one of the biggest sports business stories of all time was breaking: Basketball star Kevin Durant decided to sign with the Golden State Warriors.

And the website that broke the story was a young digital publication that launched less than two years ago.

No, it wasn’t Bill Simmons’ The Ringer or Yahoo’s The Vertical — it was The Players’ Tribune, the sports website founded by former New York Yankee Derek Jeter.

When Durant decided he was leaving Oklahoma for sunny California, the initial announcement was made in Durant’s own words

I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth. With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.

How did such a young website get the scoop? One clue is Durant’s title, “deputy publisher.” The Players’ Tribune is a publication dedicated to getting high-profile athletes to write about themselves. 

All exclusives

Critics figured The Players’ Tribune was going to become into a glorified platform for athlete press releases.

When it first launched, Deadspin’s Diana Moskovitz wrote that its articles are “obnoxious Facebook status updates or bad headlines in gossip magazines” and called the whole affair a “marketing machine.”

And it’s true that The Players’ Tribune will never pull public records or break the story of a professional athlete breaking the law. 

But it does publish important work, like Patrick O’Sullivan’s account of his abusive hockey dad or Deandre’s Levy’s examination of masculinity and sexual assault. 

What makes the Players’ Tribune better than other sports sites is that everything it publishes is exclusive. If you want to read writing directly from athletes — properly edited and not in 140 character bursts — there’s nowhere else to turn.  

That’s disruptive! First-person accounts from athletes are something that other digital media sites simply cannot match. 

And what The Players’ Tribune is less strong at — context and analysis, for example — can be found on countless other sites. So the publication skips that stuff.

For example, Durant’s post didn’t go into the economics of his deal, but plenty of other sites did, including the Vertical and ESPN. Instead, Durant’s post focused on perhaps the most interesting part of the story — Kevin Durant himself. 

The Players’ Tribune also got the scoop on Kobe Bryant retiring. Kobe went even farther than Durant. Instead of a short but honest statement, Kobe wrote a poem that provided perspective on his career and decision. Sure, it might have lacked some facts, it was far more fascinating than the commodity write-ups found on traditional sports sites.

According to Alexa, The Players’ Tribune is the 5,888th most popular site in the United States — far behind ESPN or even smaller sports publications like SBNation.

But its reach is far larger. It had a spike of traffic yesterday thanks to Durant’s post. Shortly after the announcement, the rush of traffic took down the site briefly, and literally hundreds of publications linked to the post.

So while other new digital media publishers fret about whether Facebook’s algorithm changes will shrink their audience or whether traditional journalism can survive, a small publication founded by a shortstop has the right idea. Instead of scale, the Players’ Tribune focuses on what it does right. 

The Players’ Tribune is a great site because it has exclusive content and stories that people want to read so much they feel compelled to seek them out, and that’s disrupting sports media. 

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